Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park sits on the edge of the Gauley River Canyon, and commemorates an important battle in the Civil War. In 1861, Union soldiers were victorious at Carnifex Ferry and forced the confederate army to retreat across the Gauley River and on towards Lewisburg. The formation of West Virginia as an independent, anti-slavery state depended on battles like Carnifex Ferry, which allowed the state to develop free of confederate pressure.
The battle of Carnifex Ferry holds some unique distinctions, including having two future presidents as participants. Both Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley served in that battle as part of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Despite this, the battle might have been forgotten were it not for the veterans reunions held nearby. By 1930 these gatherings had attracted the attention of the legislature, and a bill was passed creating a commission to work on preserving Carnifex Ferry’s history. Initially there was no money allocated for the creation of the park, but momentum was growing.
In 1931, on the 70th anniversary of the battle, a celebration was held at the future park that was attended by over 5,000 people, including two veterans of the original battle. In 1935, funds finally became available and 156 acres of land encompassing the important historic sites was purchased. Some of the initial proposals for the park, like an amphitheater, were not adopted, but the park did get trails, historic markers, picnic areas and other facilities. Reenactments of the battle still take place in the park.
Like all state parks, Carnifex Ferry is a boon to the local economy, and in 2015 it had an economic significance of $1,394,559.